The M77RBZ rifle outshot Winchester’s Featherweight and Browning’s A-Bolt II Stainless Stalker—and it cost less.
Despite all the time and money that a sportsman spends gearing up for a big hunting trip, painstakingly planning everything from footwear to first aid, there’s one factor that’s unfailingly unpredictable—the weather. However, when Mother Nature does decide to unleash her fury, the last thing a hunter wants to worry about is the state of his rifle. There’s shelter to be found, fires to be built, or, if conditions haven’t deteriorated too much, game to be bagged.
Fortunately, during the early 1990s, several firearm manufacturers offered a remedy—stainless-steel, corrosion-resistant versions of their best-selling hunting models. Because these stainless models have proven to be among the most popular centerfires on the market, we wanted to see how these rifles performed in a head-to-head match-up. We acquired three stainless-steel .308 bolt-action hunting rifles: The $606 Ruger Model 77RBZ, a $716 Winchester Model 70 Classic Featherweight Stainless, and a Browning A-Bolt II Stainless Stalker, which retails for $787.
To test the products’ field prowess, we accuracy-fired several brands of commercial ammunition through them from a rest, checked their functions for reliability, comparatively assessed their out-of-the-box performance in areas such as trigger-pull quality, carry weight, and other factors, and decided which one we would buy. In our judgment, the Winchester Model 70 and the Ruger Model 77RBZ topped the other stainless .308 in key categories of form and field function.
Here’s how they performed in more detail:
The Ruger Model 77RBZ Mark II is a stainless-steel bolt-action rifle with a laminated hardwood stock. It is available in 10 different calibers, from .223 Rem. to .338 Win. Magnum. Suggested retail price of the .308 model that we tested is $606.
The Winchester Model 70 Classic Featherweight Stainless (CFS) is a stainless-steel bolt-action rifle that features the manufacturer’s updated Pre-’64 action and a walnut stock. The rifle is also chambered for six other calibers, from .22-250 Rem. to .300 Win. Magnum. Our test .308 has a suggested retail price of $716.
The Browning A-Bolt II Stainless Stalker is a stainless-steel bolt-action rifle with a black synthetic stock. It is made in 13 different calibers, from .223 Rem. to .375 H&H.; Suggested retail price of the .308 model is $787.
All of our test guns’ stainless-steel parts, including the trigger guard and magazine assembly, had a lightly brushed satin finish.
The Ruger’s accuracy, in our opinion, was the best of the test. Its smallest five-shot average groups—1.23 inches at 100 yards, using a 3-9X scope on its highest setting—were obtained using Remington Core-Lokt 180-grain pointed soft points. (For more data on the entire test trio, see the accompanying Performance Tables.) The Winchester’s accuracy was satisfactory, and its groups were the most consistent from load to load. The rifle’s best five-shot average groups, 1.35 inches at 100 yards, were also produced with Remington 180-grain soft points. When loaded with Federal Premium 165-grain boat-tail soft points, the Browning produced respectable five-shot groups, averaging 1.38 inches at 100 yards. However, in our opinion, the rifle’s accuracy wasn’t very good in tests with two other loads.
In our analysis, the overall results were favorable; in most cases the rifles met our shooters’ expectations. Occasionally, however, they fell short. We began our testing in this category at the nerve center of the rifle—the trigger.
In our opinion, the movement of Browning’s Stainless Stalker grooved 3/8-inch-wide trigger was the best of this test. Its pull had no slack and released crisply at 33/4 pounds, according to our self-recording trigger gauge. There was a small amount of overtravel.
We discovered slight weaknesses in the other two models, however. Though we found the Ruger’s ungrooved 1/4-inch-wide trigger movement to be clean, it also was the heaviest of the test. According to the trigger gauge, the pull released crisply at 53/4 pounds. There was no slack and a moderate amount of overtravel.
Movement of the Winchester’s grooved 3/8-inch-wide trigger was, in our opinion, average. Its pull had no slack, a clean 51/2-pound release and a small amount of overtravel.
In comparing the guns’ stocks, all our shooters found Winchester’s CFS to be the most handsome. Its one-piece walnut stock featured a satin finish, fancy checkering pattern, and a Schnabel forend. Its cut checkering was sharp and cleanly done. However, it did have a few minor flaws. Though the steel swivel studs were well installed, for example, the right side of the black rubber recoil pad was slightly oversized. There was a small gap between the stock and right front of the receiver, but all else was snugly mated. The barrel didn’t float freely. The base of the trigger guard and magazine well was inset slightly below the surface of the stock.
We also thought the CFS was the most evenly balanced rifle in this test. This afforded a fair degree of muzzle stability and made target acquisition quick. Shouldering was natural, but the recoil pad’s pointed toe tended to snag on heavy clothing. The straight comb allowed a stockweld with a proper view through the 3-9X scope and a good cheek-to-stock fit.
Most shooters felt the 1.50-inch-wide forend was a bit too slim, but the 1.39-inch-wide pistol grip fit different hand sizes fairly well. Both had sharp checkering that provided good slip resistance. Although felt recoil was slightly heavier than that of the Ruger Model 77RBZ, the difference was only noticeable when both rifles were shot side by side.
Ruger’s one-piece laminated hardwood stock featured a uniform satin finish and no checkering. Its black-plastic grip cap, blued-steel swivel studs and black-rubber recoil pad were skillfully installed. The wood was mated tightly to the left side of the receiver, but there was a gap along the right side. Inletting of the trigger guard assembly was more than acceptable. The barrel didn’t float freely.
We found the Model 77RBZ to be the most muzzle heavy of the test trio, making it, in turn, our leader in muzzle stability. Shouldering and target acquisition were smooth, but the slowest. The straight comb afforded a good stockweld with the most comfortable cheek-to-stock fit.
Most shooters said the 1.27-inch-wide pistol grip seemed overly thin, but it and the rounded 1.73-inch-wide forend could be grasped firmly. Both were a bit slippery when wet due to their lack of checkering. Thanks to this .308 rifle’s heavier weight, it produced the least felt recoil.
Browning’s dull black one-piece graphite and fiberglass composite stock had a lightly textured finish. In stock-to-metal mating, the only inconsistency we noted was a small, uniform gap around the receiver. The evenly-shaped barrel channel was large enough to allow the barrel to float freely. Inletting of the base of the trigger guard and floorplate was very good.
Of the bolt-action rifles in this test, the moderately muzzle-heavy Stainless Stalker was the lightest by at least a half-pound. This made shouldering and target acquisition the fastest. The straight comb allowed a stockweld with a good view through the scope, but the least comfortable cheek-to-stock fit.
The 1.59-inch-wide pistol grip had a hand-filling palm swell, affording the securest and most comfortable grasp. Molded checkering on the grip and the rounded 1.58-inch-wide forend was somewhat slip resistant. Felt recoil was the heaviest, but it wasn’t what we would call excessive for a .308 rifle.
The control mechanisms on all three rifles operated smoothly. On the Ruger 77RBZ, the manual safety was a three-position lever at the right rear of the receiver. When pulled all the way to the rear, the safety blocked the sear and locked the bolt. In the mid-position, it blocked the sear only. Moving the safety fully forward disengaged it. Although the rifle didn’t have a dedicated cocking indicator, the back of the striker protruded about a half-inch from the rear of the bolt when the action was cocked.
Depressing the floorplate release, a spring-loaded catch lever in the front of the trigger guard, unlocked the back end of the internal magazine’s floorplate. The bolt release was located on the left rear of the receiver; when its front end was pulled away from the gun, the bolt could be withdrawn from the receiver.
Functioning was absolutely reliable with the ammunition we used. The Ruger’s bolt movement was reasonably smooth, but there was some drag in its back and forth movement. The bolt’s Mauser-type (claw) non-rotating extractor worked positively, as did the fixed ejector on the interior of the receiver. Inserting rounds into the internal magazine through the ejection port didn’t present any problems. The magazine could be unloaded quickly by releasing its hinged floorplate.
The Winchester’s three-position manual safety, positioned on the right rear of the bolt, worked correctly as well. However, the first part of its rearward movement was stiff. In the rearmost position, the safety blocked the sear and locked the bolt.When moved to the mid-position, it blocked the sear only. Pushing the safety fully forward disengaged it. Like the Ruger Model 77RBZ, the CFS did not have a dedicated cocking indicator. However, the rear end of the striker protruded about 3/16 inch from the back of the bolt when cocked.
Both of the Winchester’s other controls worked positively. Depressing the floorplate release, a rounded spring-loaded catch at the front of the trigger guard, unlocked the rear end of the internal magazine’s floorplate.
During firing, the movement of the Winchester’s action was, in our opinion, the smoothest and easiest of the test. The jeweled bolt glided back and forth, almost like it was sliding on ice. The bolt’s non-rotating claw extractor worked as it should. However, the fixed ejector, located inside the receiver, weakly expelled fired cases if the action wasn’t opened very briskly.
Top-loading cartridges into the internal magazine wasn’t difficult. Unloading the magazine was a simple matter of releasing its hinged floorplate.
Overall, we thought the controls on Browning’s Stainless Stalker were the easiest to reach and operate. The manual safety, a two-position slide on the tang, could be readily manipulated with the shooter’s dominant thumb. It blocked the sear and locked the bolt when moved rearward, and disengaged in the opposite position. The red and silver cocking indicator protruded about 1/4 inch from the back of the bolt shroud when the action was cocked.
After releasing the hinged floorplate by depressing the catch on the front of the trigger guard, the detachable box magazine could be snapped off (or onto) the inner side of the floorplate. Depressing the forward end of the bolt release, located on the left rear of the receiver, allowed the bolt to be withdrawn from the rifle.
Operationally, this Browning’s performance was faultless. The bolt movement was smoother than that of the Ruger Model 77RBZ, but didn’t glide like the Winchester. The spring-loaded extractor and plunger-type ejector, located on the face of the bolt, worked positively. Cartridges could be loaded into the detachable magazine whether it was in or out the rifle.
Open sights were not standard equipment on any of our test rifles. For sighting, the Ruger Model 77RBZ had an integral scope base on top of the receiver. Using the set of Ruger-type stainless-steel scope rings that were provided with the rifle, we equipped it with a Burris 3-9X Fullfield scope for testing. On the CFS, the top of its receiver was drilled and tapped to facilitate the installation of a scope. Using a one-piece base and a set of rings that weren’t provided with the rifle, we installed a Burris 3-9X Fullfield scope on it.
Guns, Gear & Game Recommends
• Despite the Ruger Model 77RBZ’s modest price, it came with scope rings and was the most accurate. We think this stainless-steel .308 rifle was the best buy of the test.
• In our opinion, the Winchester Model 70 Classic Featherweight Stainless’ smooth operation and handling and exceptional looks make this rifle a good choice for hunters who are looking for something with a touch of class. We recommend this stainless-steel .308 rifle.
• The Browning A-Bolt II Stainless Stalker’s workmanship was impressive, but we thought its accuracy was more ammunition-sensitive than the other rifles in this test. Also, it was the most expensive item.
-By- Scott Engen